Handling the COVID-19 Situation: What it Means for MSPs

In the UK we’re now two weeks into the major disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought it would be worthwhile to share some thoughts about our experience so far, and what we can look for in the future.

Communication is vital

At these times, it’s vitally important to maintain lines of communication with your customers. Be empathetic—managed services providers (MSPs) and IT consultancies are in a strong position because we are in demand, now more than ever. But we should remember some of our customers aren’t in the same position. They are anxious and some are looking at the failure of their businesses after many years—through no fault of their own. And they may also be balancing more basic needs like taking care of family and adjusting to changing schedules.

Communicate directly with your customers—and on your social media feeds—that you’re open for business. Give them confidence that you’re coping and your own plans are in place and working. Leverage the technology we’ve been encouraging our customers to use and throw extra resources at it if you can. We can use this disruption as an example of how cloud-based technology can help resolve problems during difficult times.

Within your own businesses, it really should be all hands on deck. No one is above answering a call, even if it’s just to log a ticket.

Speaking of tickets, they really are the easiest way for your team to know who’s dealing with what. They also make it simple to see which areas of your business are swamped and give you a history of everything that’s been done. This history will be very useful later on. If you don’t have a ticketing system already, get one.

Take a balanced approach 

While it’s important to be aware of customer balances, and the potential risk to your business if those are not settled, be balanced with your approach to handling invoices. Consider disabling full automation of invoicing and reminders for right now. It’s easy to irreparably damage your relationship with a customer when stress levels are this high.

One of our suppliers made an administrative error in an automated reminder system, which sent out aggressive payment reminders to customers who had already had the money taken by direct debit. Under normal conditions, this could be taken in good faith, but these are not normal conditions. Customers will remember their perception of how their suppliers and partners behave during this time.

Remote monitoring is more important than ever

From a technical point of view, we need to pay careful attention to on-premises infrastructure. It’s going to be difficult to physically access these for reboots, and hardware failures will take longer to resolve with warranty providers. If you’re not already using remote monitoring to pick up issues before they occur, you should implement this as soon as you can.

Security must be top of mind

To get customers up and running remotely, MSPs are having to compromise with some quick fixes. People are connecting from a wide variety of devices—and a lot aren’t under the management of a corporate network. Some are even shared with family members. This is jeopardising the integrity of those networks and increasing potential risk. We need to ensure those remote devices are held at arm’s length. At the simplest level, just reminding users of basic cyberawareness should yield instant benefits.

While more users know their Office 365 credentials now (because they’re fresh in their minds) they’re still using unfamiliar systems. As such, they’re more likely to fall for scams. There’s an opportunity to provide customers with extra layers of security. It’s more important than ever to implement things such as link scanning inside email messages, antivirus provided at a user level (not a machine level), and network scanning to look for unauthorised and insecure devices.

But remember, this event is creating a legacy of potential security issues—once the world returns to some semblance of normality, all these “quick and dirty” fixes will need to be undone. This is another reason to record everything you do now, so you can look at the things you’ll need to revoke later.

Looking to the future, remote work is not going away. Now that the industry is demonstrating what is possible, I anticipate a 20 – 30% increase in the number of users who will work from home for at least some of their hours. All of the issues we’re seeing around security, management, and monitoring are not going away any time soon. Try taking the extra time saved on your commute to consider packages and offers you can prepare. Let’s get ready to build new business and new connections to make us all stronger when this is over.

Thank you for reading, feedback is always welcome. Stay safe, stay at home if you can, and be kind.

 

Simon Beckett is the MD of Dynacom IT Support Ltd. You can follow Simon on Twitter here

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